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Study shows dismal graduation rates

Only 28 percent of Cleveland students who should have graduated from high school in 1998 actually did - the lowest overall graduation rate among the 50 largest school districts in the United States.

That's according to a new study by a conservative think tank, The Manhattan Institute. The group compares the dropout records of all states and the country's 50 largest school districts. Among other key findings:

• The national graduation rate for the class of 1998 was 74 percent.

• For white students the rate was 78 percent, while it was 56 percent for African-Americans and 54 percent for Latinos.

• Iowa had the highest rate, with 93 percent, while Georgia had the lowest, with 57 percent.

• Fairfax County, Va., with 87 percent, had the highest rate among the districts.

The findings are sobering in light of the importance of a high school diploma to future success. The median income in 1999 for Americans over 25 years old who left school without a high school diploma or GED was $15,334, compared with $29,294 for people with such degrees, according to the US Census. (The Manhattan Institute study did not count students who receive GEDs as graduates.)

The institute hopes that dropout data become as important as national test scores in assessing the performance of a school system. "Parents and other taxpayers must have accurate information about the educational status of our nation's children," says the Black Alliance for Educational Options, which commissioned the study.

However, calculating the size of a state's or district's dropout problem is a notoriously difficult task. The handful of accepted ways to determine dropout rates can produce wildly varying results.

The Manhattan Institute chose to compare the size of the class of 1998 when it was in the eighth grade and when it should have graduated.

But critics of such methods point out that the study does not track individual students to see if they dropped out or simply transferred to a private school, for example.

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